Saudi Arabia held its position as China's largest crude oil supplier in September helped by demand from new refineries and as imports from Iran and Venezuela continued to fall due to U.S. sanctions, customs data showed on Friday.
The drone and missile attack on oil-processing plants in Saudi Arabia on Sept. 14, knocking out half of the country's production, will likely have an impact on deliveries in October.
At the height of the disruption, Saudi Aramco asked customers to switch their crude grades for loadings in the second half of September and early October and pushed back crude and oil product deliveries to customers by days.
Saudi oil arrivals reached 7.17 million tonnes in September, or about 1.74 million barrels per day, data from China's General Administration of Customs showed. That was lower than the 7.79 million tonnes in August and nearly double the level of 3.784 million tonnes in September 2018.
Imports in the first nine months were 59.7 million tonnes, up 55.4% from the same period a year earlier.
Elsewhere, rigid sanctions by the United States on Iran and tensions in the Middle East, continued to dampen imports.
China's crude oil imports from Tehran were 538,878 tonnes last month, the data showed. That compared to 787,657 tonnes in August, and a far cry from 2.13 million tonnes a year earlier.
"All the cargoes lifted after the U.S. tightened sanctions on Iran since May were put into Chinese national reserve sites (SPR) in Tianjin, Jinzhou, Huizhou and Zhoushan," according to a latest research note by the Refinitiv Oil Research assessments.
Emma Li, senior crude oil analyst with Refinitiv, added that the tankers that delivered Iranian oil to China since May were operated by National Iranian Tanker Co., or NITC.
Shipments from Venezuela shrank to 588,698 tonnes last month, data showed, down from 1.45 million tonnes in August and 808,593 tonnes in September last year.
The September arrivals reflected one shipment loaded in late July, according to a Refinitiv assessment.
Chinese crude oil buyers have also been warned against Venezuelan purchases at a government meeting around early September, Reuters reported.
China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) skipped loadings of Venezuelan oil for a second month in a row in September as the state oil giant looked to avoid breaching U.S. sanctions.
CNPC is expected to refrain from loading beyond September and until Washington provides clear guidance over whether secondary sanctions would apply.
Instead, Venezuelan crude exports have been diverted to the transshipment hub of Tanjung Bruas of Malaysia, before being shipped to China branded as new grades such as Singma, Li said.
China's Malaysian crude imports were 1.97 million tonnes in September, customs data showed, sharply up from 646,236 tonnes in August and 1.35 million tonnes in July.
Imports of U.S. crude oil fell to 517,982 tonnes last month from 1.01 million tonnes in August, with Beijing starting to levy a 5% tariff as trade tensions with Washington escalated.
Imports from Russia, China's No. 2 supplier for September,
reached 6.31 million tonnes versus 6.02 million tonnes in August, and compared with 6.81 million tonnes in September 2018.
|Imports by key suppliers|
|Country||Sept (tonnes)||y/y pct change||Jan-Sept (tonnes)||y/y pct change|
(tonne = 7.3 barrels for crude conversion)
(Reporting by Xu Muyu and Tom Daly; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)
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